SAF MDC: Where boys become stars

SAF MDC: Where boys become stars
PASSIONATE: Dancers from MDC entertaining the crowd with an energetic dance item during the pre-parade segment at the 2010 National Day Parade.

The military unit where NSmen act, dance and sing is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month.

Name a celebrity and chances are he was once in MDC. Singer JJ Lin, film-maker Royston Tan, entertainer Najip Ali, thespian Chua Enlai, choreographer Jeffrey Tan, theatre director Glen Goei, jazz pianist Jeremy Monteiro - the list goes on.

The unit was set up in 1973 by then Minister of Defence, Dr Goh Keng Swee.

Its mission: To boost the morale of soldiers and to educate them on the importance of nation education through live music, song and dance performances.

MDC artists kept the troops entertained and slowly earned recognition as the public face of the Singapore Armed Forces through public performances and collaborations with then Radio and Television Singapore (now MediaCorp).

In 1992, a choir, a chamber ensemble and a Chinese orchestra were formed.

Today, MDC has about 100 people, including performing artists, a vocal ensemble, a string fusion ensemble, technicians and administrative staff.

Based in Nee Soon Camp, it has music studios, a dance studio and even a wardrobe room filled with costumes.

To join MDC, full-time NSmen and regulars have to audition. They have to display skills like reading scripts, singing or dancing.

According to its alumni, MDC's training was rigorous. There were daily training sessions, including dance sessions that left everyone drenched despite being conducted in air-conditioned studios.

Rapper-actor Sheikh Haikel, 38, who weighed 131kg when he joined, lost 20kg in his two years there.

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